A month or two after becoming parents, after the fog of the early days and weeks had cleared, my wife and I began to settle into new patterns, and new divisions of labor.
One evening, while our son slept, we sat down to dinner. I said something. I can’t even remember what it was. Though whatever it was wasn’t very important. She caught a certain edge in my tone.
“Maybe it’s time for a resentment check,” she said.
I was already feeling guilty about the way I said whatever it was I said. I feigned ignorance. “A what?” I asked.
“I am asking,” she said, “I’m just curious, if you feel any resentment creeping in.”
All the logistics of our new context suddenly flashed through my mind. By that point, I was back at work. She was still on her maternity leave, home all day doing everything with and for our baby. Combined with sleepless nights, she was exhausted. And yet, when I got home from work each day, I was greeted by a fully prepared dinner, a walked dog, a clean house.
So, of course I said, “Of course not. How could I possibly be resentful?”
And I said out loud all of those things that had just run through my mind – the things for which I was, of course, grateful beyond words. I told her how amazed i was watching her become such an incredible mom. Add to it all the multiple late-night feedings, which I was – not that I meant to be – was getting better at sleeping right through. The mornings after, I would wake saying, “That was a good night, wasn’t it?” And she would say, “Maybe for you,” and describe how she had tapped me on the shoulder, shaken me, feeling exhausted, hopeful that I might finally take a turn. And then I would grunt, or mumble something incoherent, roll over, and fall back to sleep. So, she would give up on me again, take care of it herself, again.
“How could I possibly resent you?” I asked.
But she was savvy enough to let the silence hang for a moment.
And a moment later, I started unleashing all the resentment that had, in fact,
been brewing, and rising, and rising, because neither of us had yet spoken it aloud. Neither of us had let the air out of the resentment balloon.
It is now four years later. I still can’t even remember what was at the source, what triggered my huffy tone. Maybe it was trash, or walking the dog in the cold, pre-dawn early morning, or being worn, worn out from what was then a 19-mile bike commute, or some cleaning the kitchen (after the dinner she’d made), or some errand, or other task for which I had not been duly thanked, or recognized…
In the end, the whatever-it-was could not have mattered less.
By saying it all out loud, we let the air out of the balloon before it burst.
And that created an opening – just the opening we needed – for us both to speak aloud our gratitude for all the other was doing. We recognized and acknowledged together the inescapable reality that life had gotten fuller, and harder for both of us.
We re-calibrated roles and responsibilities a little.
We re-aligned with each other a lot.
Married parents, ask yourselves: is it time for your resentment check? That air is coming out one way or another. Don’t wait until the winds carry you far from where you want to be. Don’t wait until it bursts.
Photo Credit: Son of Groucho
Stefan Lanfer is a Boston-based father of two, playwright, blogger, and author. In his day job, he manages communications for a foundation that supports Boston area nonprofits working to creating a vibrant, sustainable world with hopeful futures for children and youth.
Stefan’s www.DadToday.com blog traces “the big mysteries revealed in the small moments” of fatherhood. His book, “The Faith of a Child and Other Stories of Becoming and Being Dad” is a collection of stories, like this one, from his first years as a father. It is a must read for dads- and moms-to-be who are at all FREAKED OUT by the unknowns to come, and overwhelmed by all the tips and tactics and “expert” advice from the typical baby and parenting books.